27 Dec 1941 - 9 Jan 1942, Sheridan's Escape - His Own Account
Passages in italics are linking narrative provided by the editor. Passages in italics and ((double brackets)) are explanatory notes. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s diary of the hostilities can be read in full at:
All extracts from his post-war Memoir are published with the kind permission of Helen Dodd and her sisters.
Stage 1: Working With the Civilian Bakers
On December 22 Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan and his fellow RASC baker Sergeant John (or Jim) Hammond received orders to leave Stanley Fort and proceed to the Pier. After an eventful journey they end up at Lane, Crawford’s headquarters, the Exchange Building in Des Voeux Rd., to find Thomas Edgar – a friend of Sheridan’s – in an anxious meeting with Food Control officials. Sheridan soon discovers that Edgar has been forced to abandon the Lane, Crawford bakery in Stubbs Rd, where he’d been producing bread for the civilian population until December 21, and now needs his and Hammond’s help to open up small Chinese bakeries.
Thus Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sergeant Hammond found themselves working alongside civilian bakers for the last three days of the fighting, and after the December 25th surrender they accompanied them to the Exchange Building and waited to find out what would happen the next day. The Staff-Sergeant slept well that night:
On going downstairs I find a Jap captain and a group of soldiers in conversation with ((A. W.)) Brown the Manager and some of his henchmen. The Jap Captain speaks fairly good English, his name is Tanaka, he is a communications officer and all his men are technicians. He has come to take over the Telephone Exchange and spends a lot of time with the staff on the top floor. Meanwhile he tells Brown to make out a list of names of all the people in the Building. As we look out the windows on to the street we see Jap sentries at every corner, no one is allowed to move about other than Japs. We see some men of the HK Signals being marched out under escort to Murray Barracks. I go and see Brown and he explains to Capt. Tanaka that Hammond and I are also Military and wish to go to Murray Barracks. Tanaka orders us to stay where we are. There are two sentries on the front door, and the side doors are locked, no one is allowed to enter or leave the building. We are stuck in the building for a few days with no interference from the Japs.
It is of course a very boring existence, but we manage to get at least two meals a day, but the shortage of water is very acute and we are beginning to smell a bit.
The two RASC bakers have made no attempt to disguise their military status, but for the time being they’re held in the Exchange Building. Lane, Crawford manager A. W. Brown gets Captain Tanaka’s permission for them to do something useful:
There are thousands of loaves of bread in the main store in the basement going stale. Brown makes a suggestion to Tanaka that it be distributed to the Hospitals before it becomes unfit for consumption. Tanaka agrees and provides a lorry and armed escort. Edgar, Hammond and myself load up the lorry. We set off up Garden Road and pass hundreds of British troops all lined along the roadside all carrying what kit they could. There were hundreds of Japs with rifles and bayonets fixed, acting as escorts. They call out to us and say they are going to Queens Pier en route for Sham-Shui-Po, which is the former barrack camp of the Middlesex Regiment. It was the most disheartening sight I have ever seen. A lot of these men were comrades I had soldiered with for nearly five years. They called out to Hammond and I, and begged some bread, but we dare not give them any as the two Jap escorts on the back of the lorry made it clear they did not like us even talking to them. The Jap soldiers are very quick to use the rifle butt or the bayonet if they do not like your attitude, or if you do not conform when they give any orders.
We distributed some of the bread to the Canossa Convent in Caine Road, and the remainder between St Joseph’s College in Kennedy Road and the French Hospital at Causeway Bay, all were badly in need for the many sick and refugees they were caring for.
We notice the bomb damage, the deserted streets, only Jap sentries at crossings or street corners. Tram wires, bricks and debris litter the streets, some dead bodies about also. We pass a large batch of Japanese Infantry carrying the ashes of dead comrades in white sacks strapped to their chests.
In the next few days we distributed all the remainder of the bread that was in store. On two more occasions Hammond and I reminded Tanaka that we were military bakers and ought to go to a military internment camp. We were again told to remain as we were.
Soon the bakers move from the distribution of undelivered bread to baking fresh supplies. In an article he wrote for ‘The British Baker’ in September, 1946 Thomas Edgar dates Captain Tanaka’s permission for the resumption of baking to January 9, 1942.
As the bread had now run out we had a discussion and it was suggested that Brown approach Tanaka to allow the Bakers out under escort to the Ching Loong Bakery in Queens Road East ((This was the biggest and best of the Chinese bakeries used by the bakers in the last days of the hostilities)) to bake bread for the inmates of the Exchange Building and for a lot of wounded troops and civilians in the Hong Kong Hotel which was being used as a temporary Hospital. Tanaka agreed to provide transport and escort. The party was Edgar, ((George)) Mortimer, Hammond, Leung Choy, Leung Tim, ((two RASC bakers)) myself and ((Serge)) Peacock (Russian) naturalised British and his father Piankoff. The son had changed his name to Peacock by deed poll.
We are all pleased at being allowed out to do some work. With Brown’s permission Edgar and I enter the large food store in the basement and full up a large basket with tinned food, tea, sugar, butter, etc, as well as yeast for breadmaking, We know that there was a certain of flour left at the Ching Loong Bakery on Xmas Day, we hope it is still there. Before we leave the Exchange Building Tanaka gives each one of us an armband to wear, it has Japanese characters on it. Leung Choy can read the characters, but does not speak Japanese. He says the characters describe us as the servants of Tanaka. We are escorted on a truck to the Bakery and given strict instructions not to leave the building until the escort arrives about 6p.m. The weather had now turned quite cool and as Hammond and I were in KD ((Khaki Drill – standard army issue at the time)) slacks and shirt, Brown gave us a green woollen pullover each to wear. We also dispensed with our Army headgear so that now we looked like any other civilian, although we both wore army boots.
They find that they are able to resume work at the Qing Loong and word soon gets around to a hungry and bread-starved European population:
There were quite a number of different nationalities who up till now had not been interned by the Japs, i.e. Swiss, Portuguese, French, Irish and others. It soon got round that we were making breads, and as it had not been possible to get any for weeks, some visited the Bakery and were prepared to pay any price for a loaf. We did our best to discourage their visits as it may mean the loss of our jobs. Some were friends of Edgar’s whom he helped at great risk to us all, but he never took a cent in payment.
Although Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sergeant Hammond have quite properly informed Captain Tanaka three times that they are military personnel, they are now uninterned, out of army gear and working alongside civilian bakers while their former comrades are already in Shamshuipo Prison of War Camp, or on their way there. But soon the civilians too face being rounded-up....